It’s an accepted fact that the early diagnosis of cancer significantly improves outcomes for patients and the Cancer Research UK website offers some interesting figures around survival rates for some forms of cancer, when an early diagnosis has been made. In fact this month’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month is focused on the importance of increased awareness and subsequent earlier diagnosis in the battle against Lung Cancer.
But what are the obstacles to early diagnosis? Often, people delay going to see their GP about symptoms they are experiencing. Research published in the British Journal of General Practice in February 2015 investigated these reasons and highlighted the following common causes for delay:
- Normalising symptoms or believing them to the trivial.
- Stoicism / ‘stiff upper lip’.
- Fear of what the doctor might find.
- Worrying about wasting the doctor’s time.
- Lack of confidence in the healthcare system.
In fact, the good news is that the number of people dying from cancer is falling overall. Survival rates are improving and many cancer patients are going on to lead normal, active lives after treatment. However, a major factor in the continued upward trend in these figures is timely diagnosis and treatment.
Some cancers cause early warning signs/symptoms although these are often ignored, particularly as they aren’t unique to cancer and could be presumed to be something far less serious. These symptoms include:
- bowel/bladder problems;
- pain that is persistent, severe, or can’t be attributed to anything else;
- faster than expected weight loss.
Anyone experiencing symptoms that seem unusual for them should visit their doctor rather than waiting to see whether they resolve themselves. Employers can play an important role in encouraging staff not to put off visits to the doctor and may find the whole host of campaigns designed to raise awareness of particular conditions helpful (e.g. the Great Daffodil Appeal, which is run each year by Marie Curie and aims to raise money to help the charity provide more free care to people with terminal cancer and other illnesses). Organisations that become actively involved in these campaigns can help raise awareness and encourage dialogue about topics that might otherwise remain shrouded in stigma and taboo. Employers can also promote healthy lifestyles as an important way of helping to prevent cancers, perhaps by promoting the healthy lifestyle quiz.
Anyone requiring advice about cancer and work, or about the impact of health issues on a person’s ability to work, can get help from Fit for Work through the online resources or the free advice line (0800 032 6235).